Total Quality Management?
It’s a methodology for improving process control in manufacturing. It was cooked up by a professor named William Edwards Deming (yes, Edwards, not Edward – it’s his mother’s family name). Deming was primarily a statistician specializing in quality control. He is widely credited with improving US production methods during the Cold War, but it is his work in the Japanese auto industry for which he is renown. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, Deming taught Japanese auto manufacturing top management how to improve design, production, testing, sales – and especially the quality of their products – by improving the overall process of manufacturing.
The results were dramatic.
The first Japanese auto imports into the US and European markets were a poor joke. “Made in Japan” was synonymous with “crap” and their cars were cheap tiny junkers which many Americans regarded almost as the embodiment of those clownish, squinty-eyed, near-sighted, buck-toothed Jap caricatures of WWII.
Deming changed all of that.
Today, well, today Japanese auto manufacturers own the market worldwide, due in significant part to Deming and his process of Total Quality Management.
American industry took notice - eventually. There’s a fairly famous example of Ford executives trying to figure out why Americans kept requesting Ford vehicles that were made with Japanese transmissions and power-trains instead of American made ones – even though both were made to the exact same specifications (the Japanese ones were made to much tighter tolerances, i.e. if the spec called for plus or minus 1/8 of an inch, Japanese parts were consistently a quarter of that, making for noticeably better performance and smoother operating transmissions with significantly lower maintenance issues. The tolerances on American parts ran the gamut, from one extreme of the spec to the other, making for significantly lower quality and poor consistency in transmissions made in the US and dramatically increasing manufacturing and maintenance costs).
TQM worked. In Japan. It revolutionized manufacturing. In Japan. Deming is considered almost a Saint. In Japan.
American manufacturers saw what was happening in Japan, and suddenly they wanted some of that magic too. Deming, who in the 60’s couldn’t even get past the lobby receptionist, was suddenly getting phone calls from the CEO’s of Ford and GM. He became a lecturer and consultant. Unfortunately, TQM, and other systems such as John Boyd’s OODA loop, had somewhat limited success in American industry. While the new methodology did improve American manufacturing it was no where near as significant as in Japan. On the other hand, they did spawn an entirely new industry: the Process Efficiency Consultant – quite possibly the single most hated parasite in the American business sector. Nowadays, Deming is regarded with somewhat less enthusiasm among American business than he is in Japan.
And then there are those of us who were in the US Navy during the 80’s and 90’s. Mention Deming and TQL (Total Quality Leadership) to us and you’re likely to get punched in the nose.
It’s not Deming or TQM per se, whose ideas and methodologies are basically sound, it’s that they were filtered through layers and layers of facilitators who had less and less understanding of the basic principles and what had made the system such a success in Japan. Like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox, each iteration of the process became just a little bit more fuzzy than the last – and by the time Deming’s ideas became the US Navy’s TQL program it was a blurry and incoherent mess. Anybody who served in the Navy during the hated TQL period can tell you horror stories about an endless stream of facilitators fresh from their “train the trainer” courses and as enthusiastic as a Mary Kay sales rep hopped up on cocaine and caffeine and one tube of blush away from the Pink Caddie. We saw endless presentations of fishbone diagrams and Gantt charts and process vs. product flowcharts. We were repeatedly victimized by an endless succession of “Process Action Teams” and XO’s Quality Tsars and more gods bedamned facilitators.
Take the Vision Statement for example.
The Navy’s version of TQM always started with a vision statement.
Vision Statements were supposed to convey the Commander’s vision to us knuckle-draggers, empowering sailors on the deck plates by clearly explaining the reason why the organization existed in the first place. Every Navy command had to have a vision statement, every department within the command had to have one, every division within each department had to have yet another one. Like matter spiraling down into the event horizon of an enormous galaxy devouring black hole from which nothing could escape – not matter, not light, not intelligence – hundreds of thousands of man-hours disappeared into Process Action Teams during the never ending generation of Vision Statements. These PATs were curious structures, all the more so for a military operation, because they lacked a formal hierarchy. Navy TQL Implementers had interpreted Deming’s methodology to mean nobody could be in charge, and so the PATs placed senior officers, experienced NCO’s, and junior inexperienced and uneducated personnel all on an equal footing. Chaos was the usual result, that and random Brownian motion. And because actual work still had to get done, Commanders usually assigned the fuckoffs and suckups and those they could do without and those too unlucky or stupid to get out of it to the PATs. They say that a camel is a horse designed by committee, and the vision statements that emerged from the TQL PATS were often big smelly ten humped camels with crossed eyes, knock knees, and drool covered muzzles. I recall one such vision statement from a Washington DC Headquarters command that I was assigned to in the mid-90’s (we were often forced to memorize them in case the IG asked during inspections): “To maximize our potential synergy in order to achieve strategic and tactical superiority by leveraging advanced technologies in the electronic battlespace of the 21st Century” (I shit you not). That was a pretty average example of a Navy vision statement (I understand it took two weeks of discussion to determine whether or not to include the word “potential.” Apparently some folks felt that using the word potential indicated that we might not have actual synergy, and maybe we shouldn’t be advertising that. Others argued that synergy is always a potential and not a measurable rest state value. Others just blinked and nodded wisely every time the word synergy was mentioned. All agreed that synergy must be used in the statement, nobody had a clue as to what it meant but it sounded like something we’d want) (As an aside: I once suggested that our vision statement should be “Drive around the ocean, blow shit up.” My suggestion was rejected, but seriously, isn’t that what the Navy does?).
It’s a damned good thing that we didn’t have a major war during this period – because we’d all probably have gotten shot in the head while trying to figure out how to leverage our potential (or not) synergy.
Nobody had any idea of what that vision statement meant – and that too, was pretty typical of Navy vision statements. Far from clarifying things, the vision statements were just meaningless gibberish that gave the appearance of something constructive but only made things worse – because the manpower and assets used to create them could have been used to achieve actual results instead of being locked in a conference room for a month. I.e. you can talk about the mission, you can argue about the mission – or you can do the mission. (Eventually the Navy quietly dumped TQL and moved on to other management flavors of the week. Those of us who have been around for a while learned to ignore whatever process the brass were currently bloviating about. TQL, ISO9000, SEA21, Mentoring (with a capital M) whatever – if you gaffed it off long enough the current management fad would just go away anyway, and you had time to get the things done that actually needed to be done).
What happened, and what always happens in these cases, is simple (but not necessarily apparent while it’s happening, nor is it necessarily obvious amongst the carnage after the tidal wave has passed you by): There is a huge difference between a “professor” and a “facilitator.”
A Professor is a professional.
A Facilitator is an amateur.
Those who design systems, be they computer systems or management systems or systems of government, usually understand the systems in detail. They are, usually, experts. They study the causal effects, the problems, the people, the goals, the pitfalls, the scope and boundaries, the limitations, the primary and secondary and tertiary effects, the controls, the adaptations, where to apply the system and where not to apply the system, and more than anything the reason why the system was necessary in the first place.
Facilitators rarely understand any of that. I’m not saying that amateurs can’t use the system, can’t even teach aspects of it – at the familiarization level – but it is very, very important to understand the limitations of lay-people when it comes to teaching and managing complex systems. Especially systems that directly involve people.
Wright’s 1st Rule of Experts: If you learned it in a classroom and you’ve spent years developing experience and you can produce some form of mainstream credentials, you might be a professional. If you learned it in a seminar, you’re an amateur. Know the damned difference before you open your mouth.
It’s the difference between designing a computer system at the micro-circuit level and configuring a router. It’s the difference between a theoretical mathematician and using a calculator. It’s the difference between running the company and working on the assembly line. It’s the difference between a board certified immunologist and somebody who learned about vaccines on the internet. Anybody can ride on an airplane (unless you’re Kevin Smith), but damned few folks could design a modern aircraft from first principles. It’s the difference between an evolutionary biologist and a creationist.
And that’s what happened with Deming’s TQM in the United States. It’s what eventually seems to happen to all management fads here in the United States (and to be fair, it happens outside the States too, but the degree of facilitator fuzziness is far more pronounced here where we increasingly pride ourselves on the common sense of Joe the Plummer instead of actual education, professionalism, and empirical evidence). The designer’s vision is lost, the underlying reasons for the system’s creation are lost, or corrupted, or co-opted by the facilitators. These things often end up costing inordinate amounts of money and vital assets and priceless time and rarely produce any change in the corporate structure where it really matters, at the top. Witness the American auto industry, despite decades of chasing the latest management and efficiency fads – the Big Three are no different, fundamentally, structurally, organizationally, than they were in the 50’s.
The end results of this are all too apparent in the auto industry and elsewhere.
Why do I bring this up?
Because it’s a pretty good example of what happens when you let amateurs run things, when you let the lowest common denominator teach the next generation, and when you don’t really understand why things exist and why they were designed that way in the first place. It’s what happens when you don’t understand first principles.
Let me give you another example: It’s like those Cargo Cults that grew up in the New Guinea jungles following the end of WWII. Soldiers flooded into the South Pacific during the war, they brought with them all kinds of wonderful things that the primitive islanders had never seen. More than that, the islanders had no context to even begin to understand the construction and manufacture of that advanced technology. To the islanders, these things were magic. This did not mean that they could not be taught to use advanced technology however, and dozens were given cursory training in firearms and some were even taught to drive jeeps and operate equipment. After the war ended, the soldiers, sailors, and airmen simply left – and all of that wonderful technology went with them. The islanders believed that they could summon back the “cargo” if they performed the rituals they had learned from watching the soldiers. So they built “runways” complete with ersatz lights and hangers and taxiways to call down the C-47’s. They repeated the magic words, call signs and radio procedures, they had heard from the vanished servicemen. They built whole bases, complete with jeeps and gun emplacements made from bamboo in order to fool the airplanes into landing with their precious cargo. They sang and they danced and an entire religion grew up around the quest for the vanished cargo – but, of course, no cargo came. The cargo cultists performed the rituals in an attempt to facilitate the return of the cargo, but they had no real understanding of the true situation, and so they were forever doomed to failure.
Again, why do I bring this up?
Well, because today near George Washington’s ancestral home another group of facilitators, of cultists, have gathered to light the landing lights and chant and pray and wait for the cargo.
A gathering of conservative “grassroots” leaders (or those who pretend to be “grassroots” leaders but are really part of the mainstream GOP, such as Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)) assembled today in what was once the library at Mount Vernon, where they signed something called “The Mount Vernon Statement.”
Let’s call them Constitutional Cultists, shall we?
These people don’t believe in the Constitution as it exists today, they believe in some mythological constitution – sort of like Sarah Palin’s version of George Washington.
Let me give you an example:
Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead — forward or backward, up or down? Isn’t this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?
That’s a direct quote taken from the Mount Vernon Statement. It’s is not taken out of context, it is a standalone paragraph. According to the leaders of the conservative party, America must not, cannot change. Change is bad, where it may lead nobody knows. Change is dangerous. Change is a lie.
This paragraph shows, more than any other, why these people, and their Tea Party brethren, are cultists, facilitators, amateurs. This paragraph more than any other in the Mount Vernon Statement shows how little these people understand the principles and ideas that the Constitution was based upon.
America must not change?
Then why did the founders build the instruments of change into the very fabric of the Constitution itself? Why did they include a very specific process for changing the Constitution? Why did they themselves change it, adding the Bill of Rights and other amendments? The Constitution as it exists today, is not the Constitution penned by our founding fathers – that document has been changed many times.
I was going to detail those changes specifically, to rub these retards’ collective noses in their own ignorance, but there’s no need. My friend and fellow UCFer, Eric, has done a far better job than I can over on Giant Midgets. If you haven’t read his piece, you really should. Eric demonstrates rather succinctly the difference between a professional, like himself, and amateurs.
These people, these Constitutional Conservatives, are cultists. The constitution that these fools rally to defend so fervently, so passionately, so dogmatically, does not exist, and in fact has never existed. Their version of the Constitution is a myth. This America they wish to reclaim for themselves, this promised land of their founders, is no more real than the coconut radios and bamboo jeeps made by pacific islanders to bring back the Cargo.
The Mount Vernon Statement is mumbo jumbo, a bunch of words that sound good, but like those Navy TQM Mission Statements mean absolutely nothing.
When examined in detail, it’s gibberish, it’s a camel designed by committee.
Right from the opening paragraph, it’s meaningless nonsense:
We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.
We recommit ourselves? Meaning what? Conservatives have fallen off the conservative wagon? Last time they took this oath, it was by the light of flickering candles in William F. Buckley’s basement, when on September 11th (Whoa, there’s an evil omen), 1960, they all swore blood allegiance to the Sharon Statement (one can just see them in their newspaper pirate hats made from folded Wall Street Journals, with little wooden swords and a sign declaring “No Stinky Girls Allowed!”). And what ideas of the founding fathers are we talking about here? Do Constitutional Cultists commit themselves to the ideas of George Washington? Do they? Really? See, Washington hated the idea of political parties, which he felt pitted citizen against citizen. And in point of fact Washington specifically railed against the formation of political parties in his farewell address in 1796:
"All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They [political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.
"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
Why, it’s as if Washington was able to see 200 years into the future and witness the events in his own library, is it not?
What about Alexander Hamilton, who was what today we would refer to as a radical leftist. Thomas Jefferson would certainly be labeled a progressive today and James Madison was certainly left of center. So were many other founders, so when the Constitutional Cultists “recommit” themselves to “the ideas of the American Founding” I have to ask if that includes these radical liberals as well? If not, then which ideas and which founders, specifically, are they committing themselves to? Do they commit themselves to compromise with liberals? Because that’s what the founders did, they compromised. Federalists, anti-Federalists, left and right, they sat down and hammered it out, they got the damned job done, they compromised. Do these Constitutional Cultists commit themselves to that ideal, the ideal of compromise? How about that “based on the rule of law” bit? Aren’t these the very same people who say the President is above the law (well, if he’s a conservative, of course)? Who say he can order torture and detainment and rendition, including that of American citizens, at will? “They sought to secure national independence?” How’s that again? America had been independent for nearly a decade by the time the Constitution was written and ratified.
The opening paragraph of the Mount Vernon Statement is gibberish. It only makes sense, after a fashion, if you don’t know what any of the words mean.
This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. The difference between the real Founders and a myth. This is the difference between men of intellect and those who sneer at intellect and label it elitism. This is the difference between the real living and changing Constitution and the fantasy constitution alluded to in the Mount Vernon Statement. This is the difference between those who create true democracy, and those who only facilitate it.
This is the difference between true patriots and those who would only pretend to the same status.
In the end, it's just gibberish.
Frankly I’m surprised they didn’t toss in “synergy.”